Was a time I was acutely driven by the potential accolade: “Well done, good and faithful servant”, from the Parable of the Talents.
After a dramatic turn-around from a hedonistic, messed-up and somewhat criminal life to faith in Jesus, I became zealous for church, for prayer and especially for evangelism. My motivation wasn’t all wrong by any means (I’d been genuinely ‘born again’ on the inside, loved God and had a complete change of heart towards the world around me), but partly I was driven subconsciously by a need to try and prove myself to God, to make up for the years I’d lived defiantly and definitely contrary to his ways.
Although I knew I was saved entirely by grace, in response I was keen to run the race well and to hear him say at the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant”.
There were times I felt burnt out and knew that all was not well within me. In 1995, during the time of the controversial ‘Toronto Blessing’, I received some healing & restoration by way of new revelation of the Father’s heart. I understood in a new, deeper way, that when I pass from this life, the Father would embrace me with wide open arms. He would be ecstatic to see me. Not because of any efforts of mine – just because of his irrepressible, ardent love for his children.
And that this was not just about some future hope but how he feels about me now. As the Christian Aid slogan goes, “We believe in life before death”. He embraces me now.
This was a lasting change that stayed with me. I remain conscious of the security I have, of being held in my Father’s arms.
So those words – “Well done, good and faithful servant” – what of them now? Well, I’ve started to look at them in a fresh way…
In the parable in question (in Matthew 25), both the servant who invested and multiplied two talents (i.e. a certain sum of money), and the one who multiplied five talents, were commended by their boss with these affirming words. The only servant who wasn’t praised was the one who did nothing.
Father God is far more open-hearted than we humans often give him credit for. Human love and praise and affirmation are a pale reflection of Father’s heart. He is infinitely more generous than we are*.
His “Well done” isn’t just for the spiritual high-flyers, the religious achievers, the most zealous followers, or even the most caring and loving.
His “Well done” is for all his children imperfectly trying to live out their faith in him, with our feeble attempts at prayer and flawed efforts at spreading his good news, falteringly demonstrating divine love for our neighbours, stumblingly striving to walk a pure walk in step with the Spirit, and in human weakness attempting to imitate God’s creativity.
Some of us were bombarded by our teachers and parents with the words “Could do better”, and have grown into adults projecting that image on to our idea of God. But Father God is not like that.
Father God is not trying to trip us up, catch us out or write negative reports on our progress. Grace sees the best in people.
And his ‘Well done’ is not just for the next life but for the present. Can you hear him whispering ‘Well done’ through the scriptures and into your heart?
Listen to the Spirit’s whisper:
You may feel bad about yourself. God says you are good.
You may feel less than faithful; you may feel faithless. God says you are faithful.
You may think you’re not doing too well at following him. He sees your efforts and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant”!
One more thing……
Father God’s gracious, affirming “Well done” is a pattern for us to follow.
Like Will Smith in the eponymous superhero in the wonderful film Hancock, I’m learning to see the good in others and to praise them.
I love the way Hancock’s initial attempts at building positive relationships, at building people up with praise, are wooden and poorly timed, but with practice he eventually gets the hang of it and means it. I’m still a bit like that.
At home I sometimes imitate the way Hancock says, “Good job!”, but in an exaggerated American accent. My 2-year-old daughter hilariously copies me: “Good jaaaab”!
Finding fault and criticising others is so easy. I don’t need any practice at that! But I’m learning to catch people doing the right thing, doing something well, and to tell them so. Kind words are like a kiss.
“Take this mouth
So quick to criticise
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss”
(From Yahweh by U2)
Can you hear the Spirit’s whisper from the Father’s heart? Hope so. In which case, please pass it on.
* For Biblical examples, see e.g. Psalm 103:8-14; Isaiah 55:7-9; Luke 11:13.